Scots Horizon victims face justice delay 'due to UK Government decision'

Scotland's justice secretary said it was 'unclear' to her why the UK Government hadn't included Scotland in its bill to exonerate Post Office workers.

Scottish Horizon Post Office victims face exoneration delay due to UK decision, says Angela Constance Getty Images

Scottish victims of the Horizon scandal could face delayed justice, Angela Constance has warned, as she blamed the UK Government for not moving to exonerate subpostmasters and mistresses north of the border.

The justice secretary said she had hoped Westminster legislation quashing the convictions of Post Office workers in England and Wales would also apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

More than 700 subpostmasters across the UK received criminal convictions for allegations such as theft and false accounting after the Post Office introduced the faulty Horizon software, with up to 100 of these being in Scotland.

Constance has told MSPs that the Scottish Government is unable to pass legislation to exonerate victims until the UK Government has voted through its own legislation.

She said this was to ensure fair and equal treatment across the UK.

In a letter to Holyrood’s criminal justice committee on Thursday, the minister said: “It is unclear why the UK Government has made this decision to restrict the bill to England and Wales.”

The Scottish justice secretary has written to enterprise minister Kevin Hollinrake, whose brief covers the Post Office, to say that one bill to cover the entire UK “is the best way to ensure there is a quick, fair and equal solution for all affected sub-postmasters”.

She added: “In light of this UK Government decision, we are currently working to develop equivalent legislation to be introduced in the Scottish Parliament to reverse the convictions of subpostmasters convicted in the Scottish courts to ensure that they are not disadvantaged if the UK Government does not change its position on this matter.

“Insofar as possible, we wish to mirror the provisions of the UK legislation to ensure equal treatment of those convicted in Scottish courts, and we wish to ensure that there is minimal delay in passing the legislation and to this end we are exploring appropriate and timely parliamentary consideration of the bill.

“It is worth noting however, that some delay may be inevitable as any legislation would have to be passed after the UK bill has been passed to ensure full compatibility with UK legislation and access to the UK compensation scheme for wrongly convicted subpostmasters, in which the Scottish Government and Parliament have no locus.

“This is a clear reason why UK-wide legislation would be best and this may be a particular issue if the UK bill is not passed until after the Scottish Parliament has gone into summer recess.”

Up to 100 people in Scotland may have been wrongly prosecuted due to faulty software.iStock

Hollinrake said last week that while UK legislation was originally intended to only apply to England and Wales “we have been working closely with other jurisdictions on this important matter and wish to see equitable outcomes for postmasters delivered across the whole of the UK”.

He told the House of Commons: “In Scotland and Northern Ireland, prosecutions in this matter were undertaken by the relevant authorities in those legal jurisdictions.

“The Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly have the responsibility of holding those systems to account.

“We believe victims in those jurisdictions are best served by local decisions tailored to the judicial systems in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as such the UK parliamentary legislation will proceed on an England and Wales basis.

“While it is for the Scottish Government and Northern Ireland executive to decide on, and progress, their own approaches to the quashing of convictions, we will work with them to ensure those are compatible with the UK compensation scheme – so that compensation can be paid to victims across the whole of the UK.”

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